Balkans: March 22, 2004


: Today was officially declared a "day of mourning" in Kosovo. March 22 also seems to be the day it began to dawn on Kosovar Albanians that the province-wide spate of riots and murder had done extensive international political damage to their cause. Most of the violence was Kosovar Albanian against Kosovar Serb. Kosovar President (and moderate leader) Ibrahim Rugova was immediately aware of the effects. Rugova was quoted as saying on March 20: "...attacks on civilians and foreign soldiers are completely unacceptable and contrary to Kosova's
vital interests." He meant independent Kosovo's interests. That was made clear March 22 when Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica argued that the anti-Serb violence demonstrates that Kosov should be divided along "ethnic lines. "

NATO peacekeeper commanders in Kosovo accuse Albanian nationalist organizations of carrying out the recent attacks against Serbs. Raids have been carried out to arrest Albanian leaders. Serb media darkly warns of war if NATO allows Kosovo to become independent. As it has for the last century, Albanians and Serbs are willing to fight to the death to control Kosovo.

The Peoples Movement for Kosovo (PMK), an Albanian extremist and virulently anti-Serb political faction, has emerged as the "possible" organizing force in Kosovo's recent violence. However, NATO sources refuse to lay blame on the PMK. The official story remains a spontaneous riot across the country sparked by the killing of a Kosovar Serb and the deaths of three Kosovar Albanians who drowned while fleeing a group of Serbs. Several western sources do quote UN peacekeepers and police as saying the anti-Serb violence appeared to be "well planned and organized." That certainly aligns with the facts much better than a spontaneous national riot. NATO does report that 3500 Kosovar Serbs had to flee their homes in various Serb enclaves throughout the province. The violence makes it less likely that the question of Kosovo's final status --whether independent state or autonomous region in Serbia-Montenegro-- will be quickly resolved. With Milosevic out in Serbia, Serbia is no longer a pariah state. Many Kosovar Albanian leaders, who have relied on international sympathy to pressure Serbia, aren't aware the political calculus is changing. As usual, the man in the middle is Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate Kosovar Albanian leader. Rugova has never been strong enough to face down Albanian radicals. (Austin Bay)




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